Judge Daryl Loomis: Watching bad movies so you don't have to.
How do you explain something that you can't even understand yourself?
I'm not forced to suffer awful cinema nearly as much as some of my fellow Verdict writers, but it happened, and it happened this week. From the novel by Nicholas Sparks, writer of The Notebook, and starring Zac Efron (High School Musical), comes The Lucky One or, as I like to call it, Torture on Blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
After his Marine squad is ambushed and slaughtered during a night raid in Afghanistan, survivor Logan (Efron) finds a photo of a beautiful woman in the rubble. He looks at it as the reason for his survival, so when he is discharged and comes back to Colorado, he decides to leave his wife and children and walk with his dog to South Louisiana, where he has determined the picture was taken. He finds Beth (Taylor Schilling, Atlas Shrugged: Part One), takes a job at her dog kennel, and though he can't summon the courage to tell her why he's come, the two slowly fall in love. Unfortunately, Beth's abusive sheriff ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson, The Killer inside Me) wants to make that matchup difficult for everybody.
There is so much wrong with The Lucky One that it's hard to know where to start, so I guess I'll just start at the beginning. It opens with a brief battle scene, and it's clear that director Scott Hicks (Snow Falling on Cedars) is ill-equipped to handle an action scene. It's clunky, thick with quick cuts and sudden zooms that scream "Action!" but deliver nothing but laughable lines and confused storytelling. From there, we find Logan dealing with PTSD back home, even going so far as to attack one of his own young children.
As a result of that attack, he takes his long walk to find this girl and, suddenly, all of that is forgotten. In one fell swoop, he leaves his wife, his children, and the PTSD behind and then, somehow, becomes a romantic hero. Never again are they mentioned and the romance moves along with all the predictability that one would expect from a Nicholas Sparks novel. It hits all the notes one can expect. The damaged beauty who doesn't want to get into another relationship; the hero with the dreamy eyes who becomes irresistible to her; the little kid who takes to the guy and gets the mom to realize what a good thing she has; the ex-husband (of course, a deputy sheriff) who will do anything to keep her from happiness. But don't worry, never for a second will you believe it won't all work out in the end, because it's a cardboard cutout of a story, culled from a thousand romance novels with no attempt at originality.
Because every plot point is entirely expected, you just sit there and wait for it. Because the drama is so poorly executed, though, it feels like forever before they finally come. Hicks, whose career is based on schmaltzy feel good film, knows basically what he's doing with The Lucky One, and I can't really fault the direction, which is generally pretty smooth and nice looking. I fault the ham-handed writing by Will Fetters and the performers, who have so little chemistry together that it's almost laughable to watch them go through the motions. Efron is unbelievable as a man who has served three tours in Afghanistan and Schilling, though very pretty, does not make for a very exciting romantic subject. The lone bright point is the kid, played by Riley Thomas Stewart (The Beaver), who is fairly strong as a talented kid conflicted between his gentle mother and scumbag father. Really, though, The Lucky One only has appeal for those with the lowest expectations in their entertainment.
The Blu-ray from Warner Bros. is technically good, but light on extras (though I'm not complaining about that). The 2.40:1/1080p image transfer looks very nice, with good clarity and detail that brings the South Louisiana landscape to life. Black levels are very strong, flesh tones are basically perfect, and it really allows one to get lost in Efron's dreamy eyes. The DTS-HD surround mix is average, but it's not a sound-intensive film. Dialog is clear enough and the music sounds fine, but there's little going on in the surround channels. For extras, we have three short featurettes that try to make you forget how painful the movie experience was. One is about Efron's training to play a marine; the next features Nicholas Sparks talking about the transformation from book to film, though he admits having written it with a film adaptation in mind; the final one is about the supposed chemistry between Efron and Schilling, which was essentially non-existent, regardless of what they want you to believe.
If all you're looking for is the cheapest, most obvious kind of romance, then The Lucky One is for you. I, however, do not feel so lucky having watched it. Anyone with more that the most basic expectations for a movie should stay far away.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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